Insights to inform policy development and monitoring

This page presents insights from looking across all the project inputs: administrative data for the 8 funds in scope, and qualitative interviews with funding recipients and other government agencies.

The insights are provided to:

  • support ongoing policy development for Te Ara Paerangi
  • support MBIE to improve the monitoring of fund allocation and performance.

The White Paper for Te Ara Paerangi has already identified and responded to known issues with the current system and Vision Mātauranga policy; our insights confirm the case for change.

Lessons from the current RSI funding system for Te Ara Paerangi

One of the White Paper’s reform objectives is to embed Te Tiriti in the RSI system. The paper identifies specific ways to achieve this including:

  • increasing the proportion of research funding supporting Māori aspirations
  • investing in mātauranga Māori and Māori knowledge.

This section provides insights from the way RSI is currently funded, to support the achievement of the reform objective.

Challenges to increasing the proportion of research funding supporting Māori aspirations

There is no system-wide picture of funding being allocated to Māori RSI

The appendix provides insights about funding allocated to Māori RSI but is limited by the quality of current administrative data.

Appendix: Use of RSI funding by and for Māori

Without an accurate system-wide view of what is funded, it is difficult to effectively identify areas to target for additional research or focus.

There is currently no comparable data across funds for:

Intended outcomes for Māori:

  • Funds capture different information about focus and intended outcomes.

Māori involvement:

  • Current applications don’t capture a full picture of hapū, iwi and Māori involvement: applications focus on key researchers and don’t capture usable data on others involved in shaping, conducting, and using research, such as hapū, iwi and Māori involved in or leading research organisations, or as research partners or end users.
  • Data that is captured is often linked to a name of an organisation; MBIE data on organisations in the RSI funding system is inconsistent meaning organisations can’t be linked across projects.
  • ­It is also not possible to see a full picture of Māori researcher input when funding is devolved (such as for NSC).

Research topics:

  • Current application processes make it difficult to understand what topics of interest relevant to Māori RSI that funding is being used for.
  • Identifying topics currently requires scanning project titles, reading project descriptions, and varied questions related to research area that are sometimes asked in applications – including Australia New Zealand Research Code (ANZRC), Field of Research (FOR), and Socio-economic Objective (SEO) classifications.

Application questions make it difficult to target and allocate funding to research that supports Māori aspirations

Decision makers are currently allocating funding using poor quality information about projects’ intended outcomes for Māori RSI. Questions that are meant to identify research that will support Māori aspirations are poorly framed and inconsistently used across funds. In addition, definitions and guidance for applicants are unclear and difficult to interpret, meaning that applicants’ answers may not be an accurate reflection of projects’ potential benefits for Māori.

Difficulties are driven by a range of things including:

Questions about Vision Mātauranga differ across funds, sending different signals about what is important
  • Some funds ask open-ended questions about alignment of outcomes to aspects of the policy’s principles.
  • One fund asks about overall alignment to the policy’s themes.
  • Other funds ask different questions, not specifically related to Vision Mātauranga; for example, HRC asks whether research will support Māori advancement or development.
Some funds ask for projects to be allocated to categories [1]; accurate categorisation is difficult due to the categories being poorly defined and not being mutually exclusive
  • One fund asks applicants to choose one of the categories only.
  • Most funds ask applicants to note the proportion of the project that falls into each of the 5 categories, asking (but not requiring) the proportions to total 100%.
  • ­We found examples of applicants providing contradictory responses: answering ‘yes, the project will make a significant difference to Māori research and innovation’, then selecting the category ‘no involvement or relevance to Māori’.
Lack of definition and clarity in closed-ended questions means that decision-makers currently need to rely on qualitative answers in open-text boxes to identify projects supporting Māori aspirations
  • To do this well, decision-makers need a deep understanding of te Ao Māori and kaupapa Māori research.
  • Interviewees told us that MBIE has lacked this knowledge but is actively working to improve, and that some funds make better decisions than others as a result of bringing Māori expertise into decision-making processes.

Challenges to investing in mātauranga Māori and Māori knowledge

The current system appears to fund few kaupapa Māori projects

While over half of the awarded funding (52%) was for projects that indicated alignment to Vision Mātauranga or Māori RSI, we can’t be confident that all these projects are likely to produce positive outcomes for Māori, such as an increase in mātauranga Māori and Māori knowledge.

  • Applicants were only required to tick a box (or boxes), meaning it is not possible to validate the intentions of those who indicated alignment.
  • The proportion was determined by counting those who ticked alignment to Vision Mātauranga and/or ticked yes to the question ‘will this project make a significant difference to Māori?’ [2]

The categorisation question with 5 options (outlined above) went on to ask for further information. We captured the projects that indicated their project was 50% or more kaupapa Māori:

  • Only 2% of funded projects were categorised as 50% (or more) kaupapa Māori [3]. 

We note that there are likely projects being funded that use kaupapa Māori approaches (as a small or large component) that are not captured by the categorisation question, or that fell below our 50% threshold.

Application processes don’t incentivise mātauranga Māori projects

Māori researchers and organisations that we talked to told us that it can be challenging to effectively frame a kaupapa Māori project or project that exists in te Ao Māori, within a funding application that prioritises Western concepts of RSI.

“The main challenge when applying for funding was [showing] that the project could exist in a te Ao Māori framework while delivering scientific excellence in the western world.” (Māori researcher)

Māori researchers and organisations that we talked to also identified the need to build their capacity and capability to access RSI funding and lead projects. Current challenges include:

  • difficulty finding out what funding is available and understanding eligibility
  • low capacity and capability to write funding applications and fill reporting requirements
  • lack of positive examples and role models, including examples of successful mātauranga Māori projects and Māori researchers.

The current system involves few Māori researchers, capacity is limited

For funds where ethnicity data is collected, only 9% of key researchers identified as Māori. While this proportion is low, it is likely that administrative data doesn’t capture all Māori researchers involved in funded projects.

  • Not all funds collect data on researcher ethnicity [4].
  • Applications mostly collect data on key researchers, which may miss some Māori researchers involved in other roles.

Low numbers of key researchers identifying as Māori will also be a function of the underrepresentation of Māori in the RSI workforce.

  • Although Māori make up 17% of the population, they only make up 11% of the RSI workforce in Tertiary Education Institutions, 5% in Research Organisations, and 1% in businesses [5].
  • Funding recipients all commented on the lack of Māori researcher capacity, leading to the same group of researchers being used for multiple projects.

“There is so much demand, for our time it’s hard to say no to people, particularly people with great ideas and you would love to do it. We are all so stretched, we are in significant demand.” (Māori researcher)

  • Reliance on a small group of Māori researchers means the available pool has only limited time to spend on projects, further reducing potential influence and impact.

“The barrier is people …  I'm constantly getting asked to be part of projects. No one, or very few, knows how to make that bridge between science and mātauranga.” (Māori researcher)

One funding recipient revealed both under- and over-counting of Māori researchers:

  • A researcher recorded as Māori in the data, didn’t want to be identified by us as a Māori researcher – they identified as Māori personally, but not professionally.
  • They told us about their kaupapa Māori team of researcher partners, none of who were captured in the administrative data.

Another funding recipient also revealed under-counting:

  • Administrative data correctly captured key researchers who were Māori but didn’t capture a large team of iwi-based research partners.

Low capability in the RSI system for partnering with and involving Māori

Existing Māori researchers and the non-Māori researchers they work with both need to build understanding and capability to work together. The VMCF is designed to fill this gap and was viewed positively by interviewees because it is targeted and not too difficult to access. However, it was also criticised for being such a small fund.

“It’s a valuable fund. We view it as a bit of seed money, as it enables our researchers to connect with Māori, and then go on to do a bigger project.” (Research organisation)

Non-Māori researchers and organisations we talked to told us they valued Māori RSI and could see benefits of involving hapū, iwi and Māori, but said they found it difficult to engage meaningfully and didn’t always know how to do this well.

Lessons from other agencies’ funding approaches/models for Te Ara Paerangi

We talked to a small number of other government departments about how they allocate funding to and for Māori. Interviewees outlined a range of ways agencies have deliberately targeted funding to and for Māori.

These alternative approaches are summarised for MBIE’s information:

Using a statutory Māori Committee to provide oversight and leadership of a Māori portfolio

  • The principal legislative function of the committee is to advise the agency on research into issues that affect Maori people, with particular reference to research impinging on cultural factors affecting Māori, including those that affect the gathering of information, and the verification and validation of information. The Committee also has oversight over the Māori portfolio and the agency sees the committee as a key mechanism to ensure appropriate investment and processes.
  • Potential benefit if used for MBIE RSI funding allocation: A separate Māori RSI committee could support the advancing of Māori aspirations in the system. A committee of this nature would ensure those assessing funding applications had better access to information about culturally appropriate research from a Māori perspective. Note that a committee would not necessarily need to be statutory to achieve this outcome.

Developing a funding model that ringfenced 10% to 20% of funding for Kaupapa Māori providers

  • ­One agency developed a funding model that built in a sliding proportion of investment in Kaupapa Māori providers. This has resulted in systems and processes being designed to ensure the desired proportion of funding is being directed to Kaupapa Māori providers. This approach was different to a creating a separate fund for Kaupapa Māori providers.
  • Potential benefit if used for MBIE RSI funding allocation: a clear target would incentivise more kaupapa Māori researchers to apply for RSI funding, and eventually raise the proportion of RSI funding supporting kaupapa Māori research (which is currently low).

'Māori Advancement' as a score criterion equal to other criteria

  • The agency phased this in over time, starting from 10% and building to a higher proportion. This approach means that Māori advancement is considered for all applications by all panellists and then given the associated weighting (which was lifted overtime). This means that all applications have to explicitly address Māori advancement to increase their chances of being successful.
  • Potential benefit if used for MBIE RSI funding allocation: this would incentivise applicants who don’t currently consider Māori advancement, to include this in funding applications. This would likely lead to a greater quantity of RSI projects aiming to produce positive outcomes for Māori.

Taking an alternative procurement approach, for example accepting different application formats

  • The agency told us the open competitive process was not conducive to getting Kaupapa Māori providers engaged and applying for funding. Open competitive processes were also likely impacting on the success of the Kaupapa Māori providers that were applying for the funding.

“For Kaupapa Māori providers – the competitive process is cumbersome and disadvantages Kaupapa Māori providers. We took an innovative approach to procurement, less reliant on shiny reports, we accepted videos, and proposals in English and Māori. We also had several hui to discuss the proposals.” (Government agency)

  • Potential benefit if used for MBIE RSI funding allocation: this would reduce barriers for applicants who aren’t research professionals, such as iwi and Māori organisations. MBIE have already moved from academic CVs to narrative for the Endeavour Fund, a change that was seen as positive by funding recipient interviewees.

Observations to improve monitoring of fund allocation and performance

The observations in this section look across all 8 RSI funds in scope. Observations relating to individual RSI funds are in the narrative slide pack.

More and better closed-ended questions are needed across all funds

All funds should use a single set of closed-ended categorisation questions to allow quantification and comparison of funding allocation. For example, alignment to Te Ara Paerangi objective, intended outcome, and topic.

Standard questions and categories are also needed to capture specific information on Māori RSI:

  • involvement (or not) of hapū, iwi and Māori and the nature of involvement (for example, capacity and capability building, involved as leaders or partners)
  • intention (or not) to produce positive outcomes for Māori or advance Māori RSI
  • use (or not) of kaupapa Māori approach or methods.

Open text boxes should continue to be used

  • Qualitative information is needed to fully understand involvement of Māori and intentions for outcomes, both of which will provide rich information for decision-making.

Improve clarity and alignment of questions across funds

  • Common definitions and clearer guidance need to be developed for all closed-ended questions; the same definitions and guidance should be used for all funds.
  • If categorisation questions continue to be asked, they should be simplified – rather than requiring applicants to indicate proportions across multiple categories, applicants could be asked to select categories that ‘best match’ or where they meet a threshold.  

Improve data-base management

Te Ara Paerangi provides the opportunity to manage RSI funding as a single portfolio. This would require:

  • aligning funds’ reporting years
  • creating consistent project identifiers (for multi-year projects that receive new funding for the same project)
  • creating unique identifiers for researchers
  • creating unique identifiers for research organisations, partners and end-users
  • cleaning and seeking better information on researcher cultural capability – interviews with funding recipients indicates that it may be more useful to ask if researchers identify as Māori researchers (than to ask for ethnicity to be supplied).


  1. The categories are: no involvement or relevance to Māori, relevant to Māori, involving Māori, Māori centred and kaupapa Māori. [Back to text]
  2. Appendix — gives full details on how the order and way these profiling questions are asked differs by fund [Back to text]
  3. Note that application questions do not define kaupapa Māori research. [Back to text]
  4. Ethnicity data is only collected for VMCF, Endeavour, and Catalyst funds. [Back to text]
  5. MBIE, Tā te Rangahau, Pūtaiao me te Auahatanga Pūrongo Ohu Mai o ngā Whakahaere | Research, Science and Innovation Workforce Survey of Organisations Report, December 2022 [Back to text]
Last updated: 19 April 2023